BE HERE TOMORROW
6 THINGS I’VE LEARNED FROM HAVING A BABY
I never wanted to have children. The mere thought of procreating scared the shit out of me. I was scared that I’d never have enough money or time to do it right. I was also scared that I’d lose my edge – that I’d have to give up being an artist and move to the suburbs. Most of all, I was scared that I would ruin my child’s life by inadvertently doing all the fucked-up shit that my parents did to me. And then a little over a year ago, my worst fear came true: My wife told me she was 10 weeks pregnant. Given that she was on the pill and I truly believed (or maybe just hoped) that I was sterile, this came as something of a shock. After our son was born, I was in for an even bigger shock: that I would absolutely love being a parent. It is without a doubt the single best thing that’s ever happened to me.
Like all first-time parents, I’m learning as I go along. Here are six things I’ve learned in my first six months of being a dad.
1. WE NEED WHAT WE NEED WHEN WE NEED IT.
When my son is hungry, he needs to eat. When he’s tired, he needs to sleep. The same goes for all of us, even though many of us learn to put our needs on the back burner as we grow up. Babies have no barriers around deserving what they need. And in a very healthy way, they feel perfectly entitled to receive whatever that may be. Best of all, they’ll let you know exactly when their needs are not being met – usually by screaming or crying. Another thing: Without the love and support of their parents or guardians, most babies would die pretty quickly. This makes them a perfect example of the fact that human beings need each other. We literally cannot survive without the help of other people.
2. BEING PRESENT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN BEING PERFECT.
As I mentioned already, one of my major reasons for never wanting to have children was my fear that I’d fuck up my kids by repeating the mistakes that my parents made with me. But as soon as I became a dad, I realized that I would never – and could never – be a perfect parent. I also realized that my infant son could care less whether or not I was perfect. All he needed was for me to be present. Fortunately, that’s something I can totally do. I can feed him when he’s hungry, change his diaper when it’s dirty, and comfort him when he cries. You don’t need a PhD or even a driver’s license in order to be in the moment with your child.
3. WE ARE POWERLESS OVER OTHER PEOPLE.
Want a lesson in powerlessness? Try having a baby. As soon as I change my son’s diaper, he’ll fill it up and need a new one. As soon as I change his outfit, he’ll spit up all over it and need a new one.
4. WE ARE ALL INHERENTLY LOVABLE AND VALUABLE.
As soon as my son’s head popped out of my wife’s vagina like the screeching infant xenomorph popping out of John Hurt’s chest in Alien, I fell hopelessly in love with him. It wasn’t like he’d done anything to earn my love – on the contrary, he hadn’t done a thing other than gestate and allow himself to be born. But there I was, falling in love with him at first sight. The soul inside of this little red writhing body was worthy of love simply for being who he was. I realized in that instant that we are all born this way: inherently valuable, deserving and lovable. At our core, there is nothing wrong with any of us.
5. IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO START YOUR DAY OVER AGAIN.
My son can be having the best day ever – smiling, giggling, nursing beautifully – and then HOLY FUCKING SHIT! It all falls apart in a whirlwind of screaming, crying, projectile vomiting and exploding diapers. What I thought was a perfect day turns into a perfect nightmare. And right when I’m about to start cursing myself for agreeing to have this baby, everything changes. His scrunched-up, tear-stained little face relaxes, and suddenly he’s grinning and cooing like Gizmo in that scene from Gremlins when he’s singing to Billy. He lets me change his diaper, relaxes in my arms, and sucks down a full five ounces of breastmilk from the bottle I give him. And just like that, both of us can start our day over again.
6. BEING OF SERVICE IS OUR REASON FOR BEING.
For way too long, I felt like the meaning of life was to become rich and famous – and to fuck as many hot girls as possible before I kicked the bucket. Fortunately, that outlook started to shift for me several years ago. But it wasn’t until I became a father that I realized what my true raison d’être was: to be of service. To date, I have experienced no satisfaction greater than caring for my son. I know how fucking trite this must sound, but it’s true: Changing his diaper or giving him a bath is infinitely more fulfilling than getting rimmed by someone with perfect facial structure and a long tongue.
THINKING THAT I SUCK
About once a month, I go to a really dark place in my mind. It usually happens when I’ve been working too much and haven’t slept enough, or when I start comparing myself to other people – generally my idols, but often my peers. When I’m in this dark place, I start having thoughts like the following:
I’m a failure.
Nothing I do is ever good enough.
I’m a total imposter.
I had so much potential, but I’ve wasted it all.
I’m a horrible husband and a terrible father.
My wife and child don’t love me.
I should just walk out on my wife and child. I’ll never be able to support them, and I can’t be monogamous forever.
My parents never loved me.
I’m only drawn to people who hurt or take advantage of me.
I hate the work I do for a living, and I’m not any good at it.
I’m an artist, and I shouldn’t have to do something I hate for a living.
I must really suck as an artist because I’ve never gotten famous or been able to support myself financially with my art.
My friend from high school directed last night’s episode of Game of Thrones. What do I have to show for my life? Nothing.
I should be able to afford a larger apartment.
The clients I have right now are all going to fire me, and within a year I’ll be living in a homeless shelter.
I’m always so generous with people, but I never get anything in return.
I don’t have any real friends – people just use me. Which is ironic, because I’m completely useless.
People are only nice to me because they feel sorry for me.
I’ll never get my fair share.
My best years are behind me.
It’s only a matter of time before I kill myself.
As embarrassing (and occasionally horrifying) as it is to write all these thoughts down, I think it’s actually helpful to do so. Partly because it’s kind of like performing an exorcism on myself, and partly because I’m fairly certain that there are other people out there who think this way from time to time. If you’re one of them, my hope is that sharing this list will give you some perspective – and help you realize that these fears are feelings, not facts. Feelings come and go, but they’re often based on lies that we tell ourselves or the world around us. We’re only as sick as our secrets. If we tell on ourselves when we’re having these kinds of self-destructive thoughts, we stand a much better chance of getting the help we need.
LOSING MY HEARING
Around two years ago, I noticed that my wife was always asking me to turn down the music I was listening to in our apartment. Not long after that, she started asking me to turn down the TV volume whenever we were watching something together. I’d oblige, only to find that I couldn’t understand what the people on the TV were saying. That’s when I realized that I often asked people to repeat themselves whenever I was in a crowded place, like a restaurant. Pretty soon, I had to admit that there was something wrong with my hearing.
Given that I’m a singer and a songwriter who prizes music above all other art forms, the thought of losing my hearing devastated me. I thought of all the time over the last 20 years that I had spent rehearsing in tight little practice rooms with no earplugs, often placing myself right next to the drummer for hours on end. I felt so stupid. Of course I was bound to lose my hearing!
A little over a year ago, I finally summoned the nerve to visit an audiologist. After examining my ears and giving me a hearing test, she explained that my hearing was so damaged that I needed to start wearing hearing aids. This didn’t surprise me. What surprised me was when she told me that my hearing loss wasn’t consistent with the damage caused by prolonged exposure to high volumes. Instead, it was likely genetic. When I asked my parents if hearing loss ran in the family, my dad told me that both he and his father (who was also a musician) had experienced significant hearing loss in their forties and fifties.
At the moment, I’m too vain to wear hearing aids – especially since I don’t have any hair with which to obscure them. I use captions the majority of the time when I’m watching TV, unless I’m home alone and can blast the volume without annoying my wife or the baby. In order to help preserve the hearing I still have, I bought custom earplugs for music rehearsals where I’m exposed to high volumes. It’s an adjustment. With the earplugs in, I feel like I’m somehow missing out – or that I’m not really there. In time, I’m sure I’ll adjust.
What’s interesting is that I’ve been composing more, not less, since facing the music about my hearing loss (see what I did there?). More evidence that our imperfections can make us better – or at least more productive.